Newcastle United-Aston Villa Preview
By TOM BENNETT
STATS European Football Writer
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - The Premier League relegation battle will take centre stage at Villa Park on Tuesday evening, when Aston Villa host Newcastle United.
The two teams occupy the league places directly above the drop zone, and combined have picked up just three points in their last 11 games.
Hosts Aston Villa (4-8-11) have been on a terrible run of form, failing to win any of their last six in the league and crashing out of both the Capital One Cup and FA Cup to lower-league opposition. Friday's 2-1 defeat to Millwall in the FA Cup fourth round was the latest blow for Paul Lambert's side, but the Scot vowed to fight on and do his upmost to keep the club in the top flight.
"You either accept the situation or come out fighting, and I will keep fighting because I'm not brought up to accept it," said Lambert "I handle it in my own way, I've got to handle it - you are the custodian of the football club and I will try everything I can to turn it around.
"The lads have played a hell of a lot of games and we've not got the biggest of squads. You can't make too many changes (for cup matches), but the Premier League is the most important thing."
Visitors Newcastle United (5-6-12) have lost four of their last five in the league to slip to just two points above the bottom three, and Alan Pardew's side are the only team in the Premier League yet to win away from home. However, the Magpies' manager has challenged his players to win half of their remaining league games.
"We have got 15 games left and every one of them is a cup final," Pardew said. "We have got to win half those games. And we haven't achieved anything like that rate so far.
"Can we win half? I think we can. We are going to have to try."
Pardew has also been making headlines off the pitch, bringing in four French players in the January signing, but missing out on Wilfried Zaha - partly due to his excessive price tag.
"Zaha is a typical example of trying to take a young player out of the Championship," said Pardew. "I like him. I wanted to take him but, seriously, we had no chance. We just can't pay that. We got four players for that. It suited our needs better to strengthen several positions for that sort of money. It was a case of getting the players that were right for us at the price that was right for us.
"We wanted players who had ambition in them, not just for six months but for the future. None of them was a knee-jerk reaction, otherwise we would have bought a 31-year-old from a squad in the Premier League. We bought players to take us forward. We are happy with the business we have done."
Villa have doubts over Nathan Baker (hamstring), Richard Dunne (groin) and Fabien Delph (ankle), but Chris Herd (ankle), Marc Albrighton (ankle) and Gary Gardner (knee) are out. Stilyan Petrov remains absent as he continues his fight against leukaemia.
Newcastle are without Ryan Taylor (knee), Hatem Ben Arfa (hamstring) and Dan Gosling (knee), while Yohan Cabaye (groin) and Danny Simpson (toe) are doubtful.
The score was 1-1 when these teams met at St James' Park in September, with Hatem Ben Arfa and Ciaran Clark scoring the goals.
The Magpies have won on just one of their last eight league visits to Villa Park, and are winless there since February 2006. However, Villa have managed just eight goals in 11 home games this season - a league low.
Updated January 27, 2013